Dark Matter: a novel by Blake Crouch

Link to this review in the form of a comic strip by geneambaum tagged science fiction

Unshelved comic strip for 4/29/2016
The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan: A Blueprint for Renewing Your Child’s Confidence and Love of Learning by Ben Foss

Link to this review by saracole tagged nonfictionscience

The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan is an in-depth, humorous, straightforward how-to book designed to support parents in identifying and working with their children’s learning disabilities. Author Ben Foss explains in lay terms what dyslexia and other learning disabilities are and how they present themselves. He talks about the physical aspects of these learning disabilities in the brain -- illustrated with strikingly cool MRIs comparing brain activity in a typical reader versus Foss’s own brain while reading. Using the metaphor of some people have feet while others have wheels, Foss normalizes learning disabilities simply as differently organized brains, and points out that people with wheels will can go into libraries faster if they use ramps rather than the stairs that are so accessible to people with feet. From that point of view, the book focuses on confronting the stigmas, shame, and myths around dyslexia.

Why I picked it up: Having read Brock and Fernette Eide’s The Dyslexic Advantage, I’ve long been convinced that those of us with dyslexic brains simply learn differently than conventional teaching methods expect. Foss’s long title promised what I hope for my child -- a love of learning and sense of confidence in her own abilities. 

Why I finished it: The introduction confirmed that Foss passionately understands what is needed, attributing his successes in life to his ability to integrate his dyslexic brain as part of who he is (as opposed to struggling to overcome a limitation). Headers like “Welcome to Dyslexia,” “The Good News: There is no cure, because there is no disease,” and forever my favorite reminder, “Don’t forget to have fun” told me that the book’s tone aimed to support and encourage me as a parent in research mode rather than scare me about the problems and catastrophic outcomes dyslexia might cause. The front cover promised “Best practices for accommodations and the latest technologies.” The pull of that offering coupled with the author’s clarity that people with dyslexia are indeed smart and simply need access to information, that they can excel at their strengths and passions, kept me reading and taking notes to the very last page. In particular I liked the sections on “eye reading” (visually reading a text) versus “ear reading” (listening to the text via an audiobook or a reader), and on how to best use dictation software. 

It’s perfect for: Foss encourages parents to help their children dream big, so I’d give it to my friend Emily, whose teenage son is clearly smart but is struggling mightily in school. I think the strengths assessment chapters will help her see how bright her son is, allow her to stop worrying that he’s lazy or broken, and show her how to nurture his interests and passions.

Leave Me by Gayle Forman

Gayle Forman is the best-selling, award-winning YA novelist of If I Stay, and now she has written a very relatable and moving adult novel. For every woman who has ever fantasized about driving past her exit on the highway instead of going home to make dinner--meet Maribeth Klein. She is a hard-working mother of 4-year old twins, juggling life, work, and family when she unexpectedly has a heart attack. Not getting the help she needs from her husband, and as someone who was adopted and doesn’t know why this medical event has happened to her, she leaves home in order to discover her past and try to make sense of her future. With bighearted characters who stumble and trip, grow and forgive, Leave Me is about facing the fears we’re all running from. Gayle Forman is a dazzling observer of human nature, and she has written an irresistible novel.

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The Other Paris by Luc Sante

Link to this review by wally tagged history

Instead of citing the works and deeds of the famous people often associated with Paris, Sante digs into its history by looking at outsiders and fringe elements of its population. It is a history of those who don't usually make it into the official histories. He tells anecdotes about ragpickers, thieves, the Communards and anarchists, the Roma, show people, prostitutes, and more, weaving a picture of a very unromanticized city.

Why I picked it up: I'll read almost anything about Paris, and Sante's reputation for Low Life (because of which Martin Scorsese hired him to help with his movie Gangs of New York) intrigued me.

Why I finished it: I learned more than I thought possible about groups I’d never heard of. The bohemian Romantics glorified the fairly regular cholera outbreaks even as the disease laid waste to marginally homeless citizens who lived in flophouses or slept at their workplaces (often standing up). The common custom of the medieval "court of miracles" involved large numbers of frauds and tricksters begging because they had no legs or were blind or had other physical troubles (the miracle being that they were magically “cured” as soon as they arrived home).

It’s perfect for: Michelle, a world traveler who loves to see the less-visited parts of the places she visits, whether it's a neighborhood of immigrants, an obscure museum, or a side street far from tourist hordes. She would enjoy the chapter on the Zone, an area that expanded outside the city walls as Paris grew over the years, and was always the place where one could find criminals, smugglers, and (sometimes) artists like Van Gogh, who painted a few scenes there.

Math on Trial: How Numbers Get Used and Abused in the Courtroom by Leila Schneps, Coralie Colmez

Link to this review by robert tagged historyscience

Ten chapters detail ten mathematical errors that have made their way into the courts. (These are not errors in arithmetic; they are errors of theory or assessment.) Cases range from such causes célèbres as the Meredith Kercher murder (also known as the Amanda Knox case, where DNA evidence far beyond the tolerances of the equipment used was granted much more credence than it should have been) to the obscure case of Janet Collins, a young woman convicted of purse snatching after miscalculated probabilities were used to show how uncommon pony-tailed blondes (like Collins) in yellow cars with black males were. Be warned: chapter one features a renowned expert giving misleading and mistaken testimony in infant murder trials linked to crib deaths, devastating the lives of already grief-stricken parents and families.

Why I picked it up: I was checking my library for recent popular books on math, and this title caught my interest.

Why I finished it: Although the authors affect a cool, academic tone, they don't bother to disguise the colorful nature of many of the plaintiffs, expert witnesses, and defendants. The latter includes the affable and high-living Italian immigrant Carlo Ponzi, whose plan to buy cheap postal International Reply Coupons in Europe and redeem them for postage stamps in the United States was the basis for his famous fraud. Equally surprising was the story of pioneering female finance wiz Hetty Green, “the Witch of Wall Street,” who lost out on a large part of an inheritance thanks to Ivy League mathematicians on the witness stand who testified about the handwriting of an ailing woman in her supposed will.

Readalikes: The local (for me) San Diego Ponzi scheme told in Captain Money and the Golden Girl: The J. David Affair by Donald C. Bauder. His wicked pen captures the foibles of gullible investors, complaisant auditors, and an overwhelmed financial figure so corrupt that, after fleeing to a Caribbean island with no extradition treaty, they sent him back to the US anyway!

If instead of crime you'd like another readable book on mathematics, a far less grim one is The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets by Simon Singh. You'd be surprised how many of the writers for The Simpsons and its spin-off, Futurama, have backgrounds in mathematics. The book even includes a genuine “Futurama theorem,” a piece of real, journal-published theoretical math that will come in handy if you've switched your mind into other beings’ bodies several times and want to switch back, only you can't reuse any of the intermediate bodies.

Home by Carson Ellis

Link to this review by sarahhunt tagged coffee table bookpicture book

Homes come in all shapes and sizes: giant shoes, boats, treasure-filled underground lairs, wigwams, and tumbled marble columns in Atlantis.

Why I picked it up: The cover has a grid of tiny dwellings: a snail shell, a pagoda, a spiderweb, a gingerbread house, a castle, a tree stump. It made me think that a lot of surprising kinds of homes would be inside.

Why I finished it: The paintings are beautifully simple and in gorgeous earthy tones. It reminded me of American folk art. And the little details that repeated through the book made me smile. A pretty blue and white coffee mug shows up in many homes. A band's backstage pass from its tour bus home, a pennant from the home of a Norse god, a mermaid weathervane from a charmingly messy home, and that blue and white coffee mug show up again in the artist's studio at the end of the book.

Readalikes: Baba Yaga's Assistant because of its pretty Russian folk art influences and beautiful colors.

Goblin Secrets by William Alexander

Link to this review by geneambaum tagged chapter bookfantasy

Rownie is the smallest “grandchild” of Graba, a witch famous for her curses and her clockwork chicken legs. While out on an errand for Graba, Rownie sees an advertisement for a play put on by goblins. Plays are prohibited by Zombay’s mayor (citizens may not pretend to be other than what they are), but Rownie’s brother, who's been missing for months, was an actor. Rownie buys a ticket with Graba’s money, and is offered help by the kind troupe members, who respected his brother and are also looking for him. Rownie has to hide his human-ness from others while he’s with the goblins -- and of course Graba is hot on his trail as well.

Why I picked it up: It won the National Book Award, and it’s been on my shelf a while.

Why I finished it: It reads like a Miyazaki movie, with its combo of magic and steampunk tech. There’s a beautiful, locked clock tower at the center of Zombay, and little details like the fish that live in dust make it clear that this a world full of wonder, though nothing is over-described. The truth behind the power source for mechanisms; the descriptions of scary, zombie-like workers who have lost their hearts; and the looming threat of the river flooding the south side of Zombay make the world just sinister enough to keep Rownie on his toes throughout.

It’s perfect for: It has just enough description of a few of the goblins’ performances to get Snow’s attention. She always enjoys books that deal with the theater, and she’ll love everything from the dragon puppet to the goblins’ collection of masks in their secret hideout.

Blood in the Soil: A True Tale of Racism, Sex, and Murder in the South by Carole Townsend

Link to this review by flemtastic tagged historymystery

Joseph Paul Franklin was angry because he felt that miscegenation was against God's wishes. When he saw a pictorial in the pornographic magazine Hustler featuring a black man and a white woman, it was the last straw. He set up a sniper’s nest in an abandoned building near the Georgia courthouse where Larry Flynt's trial for obscenity was being held. As Flynt and his lawyer returned from lunch, Franklin fired two shots, hitting both men. He immediately left the building, jumped in his car, and drove several hundred miles. By the time he was arrested five years later, he had killed twenty-two people who participated in race-mixing or were Jewish. In 2013, the state of Missouri executed him.

Why I picked it up: I remember Flynt's shooting and his subsequent paralysis, and I wanted to know more.

Why I finished it: Franklin's story alternates with Detective Cowart’s perspective on him, formed during post-arrest interviews at a high-security prison. Franklin had contacted Cowart's police department, promising to release details about Flynt's shooting, hoping that dribbling out information would help facilitate a move to a prison with better conditions. 

And I liked reading about why Franklin was so successful in evading capture despite his many crimes. It turns out that he truly was a loner without ties to family or any place. Each time he committed a murder, he immediately drove to another state. In the 1970s that was enough to throw off the pursuit.  

It’s perfect for: Stephen, who is pursuing a degree in psychology, would appreciate what the detective had to go through in interrogating Franklin. He played head games and tried to manipulate Cowart because he knew police needed the information to close several old cases.

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